Richard E. “Dick” Williamson

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MIDDLETON / TOWN OF SPRINGFIELD–Richard E. "Dick" Williamson, a witness to much of his beloved country's history, passed away on Sept. 24, 2020. Born in Dayton, OH, on Aug. 15, 1928, Dick had to get away from his hometown to discover his love of aviation. He attended elementary school and graduated from Fairview High School in Dayton in 1946, but it was the summer of 1945 when he convinced himself there was a big old world out there and he wanted to be more than just a spectator. Having hitchhiked across the country with one of his boyhood buddies that summer, Dick found himself high in the mountains of Idaho, manning a US Forest Service fire lookout on Clark Mountain where he spotted many Japanese "Fire Balloons” launched by submarine and intended to cause massive forest fires in the US. It was there that on Aug. 15, 1945, he celebrated his 17th birthday and heard the news of the Japanese surrender ending World War II. That day, Dick came to the realization that he couldn't just stay in Dayton if he wanted to be a part of history.

Subsequently, Dick attended the University of Dayton and ultimately graduated with a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Florida, Gainesville. But the best was yet to come. He joined the US Air Force in 1951, was enrolled in Officer's Candidate School and completed flight and navigation training by 1957. Though he completed training too late for the Korean War, the Air Force provided Dick with ample opportunities to serve his country. In 1958, Dick was stationed in the south Pacific region of Eniwetok Atoll near the Bikini Islands where the government was testing nuclear power in "Operation Hardtack."

As the Vietnam War heated up Dick was part of the Strategic Air Command stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana but volunteered for Vietnam duty. During 1965, the Air Force was bombing targets in South Vietnam from its base in Guam with B-52s. The huge bombers required refueling over the South China Sea and while based in Okinawa, Dick piloted KC-135 tankers to refuel the B-52s so they could safely make it back to Guam. A couple of years later, Dick was again in Southeast Asia as part of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. Known as Operation Popeye," the mission was highly classified at the time but amounted to a rain-making operation. The Viet Cong were supplied from the north via the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Dick's mission was to seed clouds with silver oxide to make it rain. With ideal atmospheric conditions over the trail and plenty of moisture in the air, the effort worked almost flawlessly and wrung the moisture out of the clouds, causing large amounts of rainfall and even flooding in the Mekong Delta. The resulting quagmire halted the supply convoys coming from the north.

Dick always considered his last four years in the Air Force as his favorite job. From 1969-73, he was Chief of Aviation Events Branch, headquartered at the Pentagon. In other words, he was in charge of all military flights and events over the public domain. Among other things, this meant that he coordinated the schedule of the Air Force Thunderbirds, the Navy Blue Angels, the Army Paratroopers Golden Knights and the air reservists Air Barons. He often mused that it was a great Pentagon job that allowed him to attend air shows all over the country almost every weekend… fine duty for a career Air Force pilot!

Dick retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Colonel in 1973 and continued in civilian life as a public relations director for the Texas Credit Union League in Dallas, TX and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) in Madison, retiring fully in 1995. However, Dick remained active in a number of civic and service organizations including serving as local chairman of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon in the Dallas area. Dick was a member of Cross Plains American Legion Post 245 and was instrumental in many public relations activities including the building of their Veteran's Memorial.

Besides his many professional and personal friends, Dick is survived and remembered by his children, Rick Williamson, Tami (Williamson) Gagnon, Sage Williamson and their families; and, a most important person, closest friend, caregiver and partner, Linda Leese. He was preceded in death by his mentor, inspiration and father, Harold H. Williamson.

A private service will be held to honor Dick’s memory. Those who wished to view services via live stream were able to do so on Sept. 30, 2020. Friends and family were invited to an outdoor drive through visitation at Gunderson West Funeral and Cremation Care, Sept. 30.

And now for the final time, as Dick often said, “This is Williamson, over and out.”

Online condolences may be made at gundersonfh.com.

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